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Luisita farmers hopeful about owning land as SC readies decision

/ 08:14 PM November 23, 2011

CONCEPCION, Tarlac, Philippines—As he slashed sugar cane for this year’s harvest at Hacienda Luisita, Willie Ligado said he was filled with fresh hope as the Supreme Court readies its ruling on the long-festering agrarian dispute at the estate owned by the family of President Benigno Aquino.

His dream of owning a parcel of land in the more than 6,000-hectare property of the Cojuangco family might be near, Ligado said.

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“Mas magandang ipamigay na ang lupa para maparte-parte na at magkahanap-buhay na kami (It would be  better for the lands to be parcelled out so we can make a living out of it),”  Ligado, a migrant from Bais, Negros Oriental, told the Inquirer.

He has been working on the sugarcane fields of Hacienda Luisita since 1986 and voted for the contentious Stock Distribution Option in 1989. He voted to get land instead of cash dividends in August 2010.

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In Barangay Bantug where he lives, Ligado said, a Supreme Court decision favoring land distribution could mean an end to seven years of hunger.

The strike in 2004, he said, stopped sugar planting until 2006. Some farm workers, through their organizations or barangay councils, obtained land  to till for themselves.

Without capital, however, they rented out the land to corporate growers at rates of P5,000 to P10,000 a year. With meager income, farm workers offer their services during harvest season and take odd jobs, like gathering recyclable plastic and steel, the rest of the year.

Ligado’s group, comprised of 10 men, is paid P180 per ton of cane. The 10-hour work, which starts at 5 a.m., gets them P180 as daily wages as they can cut 10 tons of cane.

“We asked the [Department of Agrarian Reform] for help. We said we also need seeds and irrigation support so we can make the land productive in Luisita when the Supreme Court decides it is for us,” said Noli Tan, a farmer.

The high court has yet to release the decision and an official statement on the matter. When reports got around that the court had voted 8-5 to distribute Hacienda Luisita, the Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Luisita (Ambala), the original claimant, on Wednesday began going around the 10 villages within the estate in Concepcion and La Paz towns and Tarlac City to inform farm workers about the news.

Through a speaker mounted on a jeepney that reached Barangay Cutcut in Tarlac City, a man’s voice announced in Kapampangan: “This is to inform you that in media reports, it is said that the Supreme Court has favored us, farm workers. The fight has taken a good turn so let’s continue fighting for our land.”

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Felix Nacpil Jr., Ambala chair, said it was  in the best interest of farm workers if the land was placed under the name of their group because it planned to manage the property as a cooperative. That way, he said, the land is secure against being sold or leased out by individual farmers. Ambala claims a membership of  some 6,500 farm workers.

If the ownership of land is transferred to farm workers without production support, corporate growers can take advantage of this situation, possibly reducing farm workers as lessors, he said.

“So it is important there is production assistance also,” he added.

Julieta Llego, 50, wants to own a piece of land not for herself but for her sons, aged 9 and 7.

If she gets the hectare assigned to her by the village council in Barangay Pando here, it could stop the prospect of her children becoming the third generation of farm workers in the family.

Her late father, Loreto Dungo, was a farm guard while her mother, Milagros, 84, used to be a farm worker.

“I hope this status of us being farm workers is stopped. It’s been too long that we have been workers of the land,” said Llego.

On Wednesday, she and her husband, Melchor, worked as hired hands on a rice farm.

The village council assigned a hectare to every family, including the Llegos. This and a 240-square-meter home lot are what they so far have, but without any titles to their names, said Roger Amurao, chair of the Farmworkers Agrarian Reform Movement-Luisita (Farm Luisita).

“We can’t explain to you the happiness we are feeling after we heard the news that the Supreme Court was for land distribution,” said Amurao, a second-generation farm worker, whose father, Felix, also worked at Luisita.

But Marillou Gapate, a resident of Barangay Motrico in La Paz town, said she would rather remain a farm worker and hold on to her shares of stock at Hacienda Luisita Inc. because that situation is more stable and guarantees them regular dividends from the company, including educational and hospitalization aid.

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TAGS: Hacienda Luisita, Judiciary, Land Reform, Politics
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